DENNIS TOWNSHIP — Oh, what a relief.
Motorists traveling on the southern end of the Garden State Parkway finally have a place to grab some food, refuel their cars and — perhaps most important of all — go to the bathroom.
The opening Wednesday of the rebuilt Ocean View rest plaza near Exit 17 gives tourists one last pit stop before making their final push to the Cape May County resort towns off the parkway.
The Stavrakos family, of Havertown, Pa., wandered into the rest area shortly after it opened to the public at 10 a.m. With their 10-year-old son, Sam, and 8-year-old daughter, Lydia, in tow, parents Jennifer and Todd Stavrakos immediately hit the bathrooms.
“It’s nice to stop and have a place to go to the bathroom before we get to the beach,” Jennifer Stavrakos said, noting the family’s destination was Sea Isle City.
Friends Peg Stires and Jeanette Esteves spent three hours on the parkway driving down from their home in Whitehouse Station, Hunterdon County, before deciding to take a break at Ocean View.
“We finally had to get out of the car,” Stires said. “This place gives you a chance to get out and stretch your legs a little.”
Stires and Esteves were headed to Wildwood for Fourth of July weekend. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the parkway’s operating agency, wanted to have the rest stop ready to greet the throngs of holiday visitors to the shore.
With the next-closest rest stop more than 20 miles north, it meant motorists had no access to public bathrooms on the parkway for a long stretch when Ocean View was closed for months for reconstruction.
Philadelphia-based Sunoco Inc. agreed to finance construction of the $2.5 million project in exchange for a one-year extension on its contract to sell fuel at nine Garden State Parkway service areas, the authority said.
The complex includes a Sunoco gas station and a modestly sized red-brick building containing one of the company’s APlus convenience stores. The New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism has a small visitors center inside to help tourists with their travel plans, hotel accommodations and sightseeing.
Diane Wieland, tourism director for Cape May County, said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno insisted the new rest stop include a welcome area for tourists.
“She was very much an advocate to get it in there and make sure we had some place in this area to distribute tourist information,” Wieland said.
The former, nearly 60-year-old Ocean View rest stop, which was torn down to make way for construction of the new building, also included a tourist welcome center. Wieland said 300 Cape May County businesses took advantage of the location to distribute their promotional literature and market themselves to visitors.
“It was a huge benefit for Cape May County,” she said, adding that local businesses are also expected to capitalize on the new rest stop to attract tourists.
The old rest stop was shut down in November, allowing contractors to demolish the site. The old building had no restaurant when it was last open, locked its doors at 5 p.m. and was marred by a gloomy appearance. Some Cape May County officials complained that the closed bathrooms created an unfriendly image for tourism.
With a fresh, new building to serve as the rest stop’s centerpiece, parkway motorists will have 24-hour access to food, fuel and bathrooms between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Off-season hours will be adjusted to reflect the shore’s tourist slowdown during the winter.
“We are happy to be open, right before the Fourth of July holiday,” said Wayne Caton, division operations manager for Sunoco.
Caton said the rest stop has created 25 to 30 new jobs.
Ocean View is the southernmost service area on the 172-mile parkway. The next-closest one is 23 miles north at Interchange 41 in Galloway Township.
Interchange 41 is also being rebuilt, but much more extensively than the Ocean View rest stop. New southbound and northbound lanes are being built to the parkway off Jimmie Leeds Road.
Parkway food contractor HMSHost Corp. will build a new $7 million service plaza related to Interchange 41’s reconstruction. The new service plaza is scheduled for completion in 2015.
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